#WeekendPlans: “A Deep Sense of Awe” w/ @EcholsClark

During this New Church of Montgomery zoom service, our Guest Minister from the Glendale New Church, Rev. Clark Echols will focus on Pentecost and spiritual development from Childhood on into the spiritual life.

Church is at 11, Sunday, May 28, 2023, and zoom link will be shared with church members and their guests.

Ninebark with blooms, photo by Marguerite Panyko

What Exactly Are You Saying?! #ThursdayThoughts

Rev. Jenn Tafel’s Sermon From June 9, 2019 at the New Church of Montgomery

What Exactly Are You Saying?!

Listen/Watch or Read

 

Good morning! I’m excited to be with you all for worship once again.

It’s been a while since I’ve shared my call to ministry story. It was the “thing” to do in theological school. We compared these stories time and again. Each time someone shared their story, there were new elements to it. Now it’s not like a traditional “fish story” where the size of the fish grows or the depth of the water deepens each time or whatever. The new elements added come from a place (hopefully) of thoughtful reflection. We knew (or maybe everyone else did) that people would ask about this part of our journeys as ordained clergy—and so it was important to hone and craft the story for the years of storytelling to come. There were moments when I didn’t think anyone would be that interested; but, we are talking about the Creator of the universe working through humans in a particular fashion (allegedly)—so yes, as it turns out—people have been interested in my story. Now, with all that build up you would think I had a fantastic or jaw-dropping story. I mean, how else does the Creator of the universe work, right?! To be honest, I’ve had more significant dreams, meditation experiences, and shamanic journeys since theological school, but this is a story that came to mind when reflecting on the lessons from Scripture and Swedenborg’s exegesis.

I floundered after college. Well, I floundered in college and before college, too. I thought I wanted to be a teacher and that’s how I got back to school full time at the age of twenty-three. And then I realized I had no business being in a classroom with the youth of America. I graduated with a degree in Communications and Theater. Super marketable by the way (if you’re interested!). I moved to the Boston area and tried to find gainful employment and I ended up in the travel industry for a time. I lived with Bill and Louise Woofenden for part of my time there. For those of you who are unfamiliar, Bill taught at the seminary for years. I attended church at the Swedenborgian church in Elmwood while I lived in that area—so did Bill and Louise.

I participated in the Sunday School program and organized that year’s women’s retreat. Louise would ask me quite often when I was going to answer the call to ministry. I returned the question with a blank stare. The women at that retreat asked me the same question. I drove teens to a Memorial Day Retreat in 2001 and realized how much I enjoyed the experience as staff. I was emailing Jim Lawrence (Dean of our theological school) about information for articles I was writing for our national church magazine and other material. Jim is a known recruiter for the school and has been for some time. He would reply to my emails asking when I was going to answer the call to ministry. I attended our annual convention that year and at a mixer with ministers (because doesn’t everyone go to those?!)—I asked one of my (now colleagues), “Don’t I have to have a call to ministry or something?” He replied, “You also have to answer the call if it comes in.” I was dumbfounded. I thought that a call to ministry would be cosmic and all the details would be handled or some such thing. I did not anticipate hearing that I had a part to play in the process—I mean I fully grasp that now, but I was taken back by this concept because I somehow negated my participation.

I had lunch with Jim during the convention and it appeared that my fate was sealed. And then I had to break the news to my parents (cue dramatic organ music). I honestly think it was easier to come out as queer identified and bi than to tell them I was going into what is known as the family business.

After I shared this story in circles with classmates and professors—I was kind of jealous of other people’s stories. I heard folks share profound dreams and mountain top experiences as their call to ministry—life events that shook people to their cores. My story feels rather matter of fact and boring. Now, I do remember asking my step dad (also a minister) at dinner one night when I was nineteen what the process was for becoming a minister. I needed a bachelor’s degree to begin the educational component. Well, that wasn’t where I was at that point in my life so I didn’t pursue things then. I remember a time at one of our church camps when I was nine or ten and I looked around my environment wondering how it all came to be. I wondered why I was there and why any of us were here. It was beyond the buildings I was next to—I wanted to know the story behind what I was experiencing. I still have this sense of wonder about the universe and construct of reality—but that’s a story for another time. The point of me sharing this is that while my actual call to ministry (and the answering of it) seems bland to me—it is part of a much larger journey.

For me, this is an illustration of the dynamic and subtle ways that God works through humanity and this is the connection to the lessons from Scripture. While incredibly distinct and different stories from Scripture—a common thread that I heard was God’s desire to speak to humankind and through humankind and this is where my call to ministry story fits into the equation for me. God speaks continuously through a variety of methods. As one of my mentors would say, “If you are not someone who reads Scripture or other books don’t you think God is still trying to reach you? There are movies, songs, conversations with others that can be the vehicle for God’s communication. The point is that we have to be open to the ways God is communicating.”

In the story of the Tower of Babel the citizens of the planet decided they wanted to reach God and the best way they could do that was by building a structure that would reach up to heaven. While Swedenborg has specific explanations of this story that unpack each verse of this story, the bottom line is that because they spoke one language it means that they were upholding one doctrine. Because they decided what was best—building a tower to reach God, their self-hood was leading the way rather than allowing for God to be the driving force. The result was that they no longer understood one another on many levels because their language was muddled. This confusion is a state of being that is necessary when breaking the hells apart from a heavenly state. What we once knew is distorted because a new way of operating needs to take hold. Rather than build a structure “up to heaven,” our spiritual growth requires that we look inward and break the structures that already exist as barriers to the leading of God in our lives.

The story of Pentecost is not one that I grew up hearing while raised in this tradition. I can’t tell you why, but I can tell you that the story holds significance for me as I have attended ordinations of friends and colleagues on this day or with the color red (the liturgical color of the day) in the sanctuary. As we celebrate this Christian holy day and pair it with the story of the Tower of Babel, listening to God would potentially be fear inducing. I mean, the disciples and friends are in a room not exactly settled and really uncertain about the future. It’s fifty days from Easter and then they have this other worldly experience occur. While accused of drinking—because that’s an easy thing to say that causes altered states of consciousness, it’s really a direct experience of God through the Holy Spirit. So we move from not being open to God because of barriers and self-hood leading the way to God saying, “Listen up folks!” The barriers of denial become apparent in this story. However, there were enough people in the crowd hearing a message from the Divine in their native language that could dispute the need to deny.

I return to the story of my call to ministry where it was pointed out that I needed to be a participant in how God was speaking to me and ultimately leading me. To be honest, I was afraid of how this decision was going to change my life. I knew that I would have to make sacrifices and twelve years later I am still actively changing course as needed in order to follow where God is leading me. I have moved around the country (and most recently across town), established and dissolved relationships, attended countless workshops on honing skills on all levels, and more. The desire to listen, hear, and act on how God is leading in my life is far from what would be considered easy by most folks. However, at this point in the game there is no going back to any iterations of who I once was.

So where do you find yourself in the stories? Are you able to hear God? Do you have a desire to hear where God is leading you? Are there barriers to you taking action?

Pentecost is in many ways a birth story—the birth of a movement. We all have the ability to bring forth life no matter our circumstances. May the fire of the Holy Spirit burst forth within each of you here today!                 Amen

 

Lessons from Scripture

 

Genesis 11: 1-9

 

1 Throughout the earth, people spoke the same language and used the same words. 2 Now, as they moved eastward, they found a valley in the land of Shinar and settled there. 3 They all said to one another, “Let us make bricks and bake them in the fire.” They used bricks as building stones, and bitumen for mortar. 4 Then they said, “Let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top can reach to heaven. Let us make a name for ourselves, to keep us from being scattered over the face of the whole earth.” 5 Yahweh came down to see the city and the tower these mortals had built. 6 “They are a single people with a single language,” Yahweh said. “And this is but the beginning of their undertakings! Now there will be nothing too hard for them to do. 7 Come, let us go down and baffle their language so that they can no longer understand one another.” 8 So Yahweh scattered them over the face of the earth, and they had to stop building the city. 9 It was named Babel, because Yahweh made humans babble different languages throughout the world. It was from there that Yahweh scattered them over the whole earth.

Acts 2: 1-21

 

1 When the day of Pentecost arrived, they all met in one room. 2 Suddenly they heard what sounded like a violent, rushing wind from heaven; the noise filled the entire house in which they were sitting. 3 Something appeared to them that seemed like tongues of fire; these separated and came to rest on the head of each one. 4 They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as she enabled them. 5 Now there were devout people living in Jerusalem from every nation under heaven, 6 and at this sound they all assembled. But they were bewildered to hear their native languages being spoken. 7 They were amazed and astonished: “Surely all of these people speaking are Galileans! 8 How does it happen that each of us hears these words in our native tongue?

9 We are Parthians, Medes and Elamites, people from Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya around Cyrene, as well as visitors from Rome— 11 all Jews, or converts to Judaism—Cretans and Arabs, too; we hear them preaching, each in our own language, about the marvels of God!” 12 All were amazed and disturbed. They asked each other, “What does this mean?” 13 But others said mockingly, “They’ve drunk too much new wine.” 14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven and addressed the crowd: “Women and men of Judea, and all you who live in Jerusalem! Listen to what I have to say! 15 These people are not drunk as you think—it’s only nine o’clock in the morning! 16 No, it’s what Joel the prophet spoke of: 17 ‘In the days to come— it is our God who speaks— I will pour out my spirit on all humankind. Your daughters and sons will prophesy, your young people will see visions, and your elders will dream dreams. 18 Even on the most insignificant of my people, both women and men, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. 19 And I will display wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below: blood, fire and billowing smoke. 20 The sun will be turned into darkness and the moon will become blood before the coming of the great and sublime day of our God. 21 And all who call upon the name of our God will be saved.’

Message from Swedenborg

“The fact of the matter is that the more self-love or a misplaced sense of independence worms its way into our worship, the more internal worship recedes, or becomes nonexistent. Inward devotion consists in an affection for what is good and an acknowledgment of truth, but the more egoism or self-dependence advances or enters, the more an affection for goodness and the acknowledgment of truth withdraw or leave. Holiness can never coexist with profanation, just as heaven cannot coexist with hell. The one needs to separate from the other; that is what conditions in God’s kingdom, and the way it is organized, require. This is the reason why inward worship does not exist in those whose worship is called “Babel.” Instead they worship something dead and even cadaverous that lies within. It is evident, then, what outward worship is like when something like this lies at its core.”

Secrets of Heaven 1326

Guest Minister, Rev @JennTafel Considers The #TowerOfBabel and #Pentecost, Sunday

Join us Sunday, June 9, 2019, for a sermon by our Guest Minister, Rev. Jenn Tafel.  Rev. Tafel will explore the stories of Pentecost and The Tower of Babel, from Scripture.

Hospitality begins at 10:30, Service at 11:00.

845 Congress Avenue, Glendale, OH 45246

Rev. Jenn Tafel is “a Certified Reiki Master and ordained Minister. (She is) an advocate and activist in the LGBTQ+ community and ally in several circles. (She is) interested in dismantling systems of oppression collectively and individually, and… here to build new paradigms based on love and wholeness—which requires reconciliation and forgiveness. (Rev. Jenn is) sharing what (she) learn(s) and practice(s) along my journey. ~https://www.groundedcoveliving.com/

burjKhalifa-lightshow

photo by Maggie Panyko

 

“If not me, then who?” #CincySermons

Sermon from May 20, 2018; Guest Minister, Rev. Jenn TafelJennTafel-ncom-pentecost

“If Not Me, Then Who?”

Good morning! So glad you are here today.

I like the ocean. While I was born in southern California, I spent my childhood and adolescence between Washington, D.C., Boston, and Colorado. I returned to my home state for high school. I’m not sure how many of you know, but there really is a difference between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. I enjoyed my visits along the shoreline when I lived on the East Coast but I have bonded with the Pacific Ocean. It feels like I’m cheating on it when I visit the Atlantic—or even one of the Great Lakes. We have a bond, the Pacific and me. We “get” each other. If I’m going to swim in an ocean, it’s going to be the Pacific. There are no questions when I sit and stare into the vastness. The repetitive sound of the waves is music to my ears. The smell of the salt air is home to me. It is calming. It is sustaining. The lost parts of myself begin to reformulate. I shift and feel whole.

Whenever I go “home” to visit my mom—I have to have at least one day at the beach. She gets it; as she loves to hear the waves, too. Her mom was the same way. It’s in our genes. My Grandma would pack up my cousins and me for a day at the beach whenever we were in town. Our time at the beach, both individually and collectively is restorative. No explanation needed.

I share this with you because this is the time and space where I feel most connected to God, the Creator, Divine energy—whatever you call it. The vastness of the ocean is a physical representation of how I can understand the abstract idea of God’s vastness. Is it the same thing? No—but it’s a representation. Do I “see” God at the beach? In the creation and nature, yes; but actually seeing God, no—just maybe some of the parts. I experience God in these moments—and that’s the closest I can get while being Jenn on the physical plane.

When I read the passage from Isaiah word for word with the intention of letting the words sink in, I was blown away. The passage seems so far-fetched that clearly it isn’t real.  Sure, we can sit here and debate the reality of the words—or we can let the words wash over us and see where and how we connect.  That is after all what our opening song is about, right (“Ancient Words” by Lynn Deshazo)?  We come and gather in this space to let the ancient words transform us—in big and small ways.

Looking over what the scholars have to say—their focus is on the times in Scripture when God was seen face to face, and by whom. It is curious to read over and compare the stories—as an intellectual curiosity.  However, my take-away was the experience by the author.  Was the point of this story to report on what was occurring in the Temple or the result of this experience: acceptance of God’s call?  For me the two are inextricably linked.  How can one have such an experience and NOT feel compelled to act? (I’m sure it
happens!). The visceral experience of what the author was witnessing was soul shaking. I am shook from reading it—thousands of years after the fact.  The author couldn’t help but be impacted.

So what was going on?  The passage begins with an in-depth account of witnessing God sitting on a throne with the Seraphs present.  It truly is an other-worldly experience. God is elevated on a throne—a common understanding in those times of how God would be present. The Seraphs (a type of angel) are there, too.  From Israel-a-History-of.com we hear,

“Seraph is the actual Hebrew term used to denote these beings. It comes from a word which means,to be on fire. SERAPH conveys the ideas of; burning, fiery, poisonous, serpent. Holman’s Bible Commentary on Isaiah states Seraph ‘basically means the fiery ones’; (p. 68).”

With this definition perhaps the other imagery present of smoke and fire makes sense.
The author takes in what is happening only to realize their inequity and human (faulty) nature and acknowledges to those present that they are unworthy of this experience. The source I used for study explains,

“Isaiah not only recognizes his own unworthiness and sin, but also the sin of his people and nation Israel – thus he fears he will instantly be struck dead.”

Isaiah realizes his humanity and corruption, and knows sin cannot coexist with God, nor can it enter the heavenly realm.  However, like Satan, in the earlier example from Job, “Isaiah was allowed to enter the presence of God.”  He is cleansed (the source of communication at least) by another element associated with fire and smoke—a piece of coal.

The passage then goes on to explain the details of the call of God and what it means in practical terms.  The author, assumedly Isaiah, answers this call.  They are moved on every level from this visceral and other-worldly experience.  They have “no choice” but to be moved in this way. Could this person have said no? Of course. Maybe this is the point where we find an entry into the story by asking if we would respond in such a way. What is not lost on me is the imagery of fire—I keep coming back to that.

Perhaps these figures impart a fiery spirit upon the authoR (or maybe the author
is inspired on some level by these figures who are surrounding God.) From a correspondential perspective it makes sense that this is the element used in this way. Fire represents the light of Divine Wisdom and the heat of Divine Love.  With fire present in this way, the fiery beings surrounding God make sense.  The fire could be contagious—it certainly was for Isaiah.

Perhaps we don’t think of fire in this way; holy and sacred. We know of it as a call to action for sure, but not in this sense. The call to action for many is from a safety perspective.  It is dangerous. It takes things without thinking of the consequences. It is awe-inspiring when we know we are safe and are able to keep it contained. We can’t let it get loose. Maybe some of you here have stories of the danger and destruction—as a Californian, I certainly do. And yet, I still love fire. I enjoy building fires and watching them come to life. I know I am safe in that moment and I can let loose a bit.  Maybe I am in awe and reverent with fire because I know of its capacity.  When I went home for
the holidays I saw first-hand the power of destruction.  The air quality was
diminished because of the fires in southern California.  Life is impacted by
this destruction.

And yet, life is also impacted in the creation, from fire. We are seeing that with the volcanoes in Hawaii. The lava is terrifying but it is also what created the islands.  There wouldn’t be a foundation without the fire. It is life and death in one.

I chose the passage from Gospel of Matthew as our message from the New Testament because it is known as The Great Commission.  I chose to pair it with the passage from Isaiah because people are answering a call from God in both texts. In Isaiah, the author is moved to work on God’s behalf because of the experience they are witnessing.

However, in contrast, Jesus is directly sending the disciples. He is telling them to go rather than them saying, “Send me.” They are witnessing something perhaps just as drastic since they are seeing him after Easter morning—so there are definitely some questions on their part for sure.  What is similar to the experience in Isaiah is the reverence.  They bow in reverence—and like us—“some doubted what they were experiencing.”  They had a similar mission as Isaiah and I’m sure they encountered the people who wouldn’t believe. This text ends with a passage that one of my supervisors in hospital chaplaincy had on his wall:

“Lo, I am with you, even to the end of the age.”

No matter what—God is with us.  Whether we are sent, or called to action—it is the Creator who will be with us in all of our encounters.

I paired today’s readings before I was reminded it is Pentecost Sunday.

[Paraphrase:]

When the day of Pentecost arrived, they all met in one room. Suddenly they heard what sounded like a violent, rushing wind from heaven; the noise filled the entire house in which they were sitting.  Something appeared to them that seemed like tongues of fire; these separated and came to rest on the head of each one.  They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as she enabled them.  Now there were devout people living in Jerusalem from every nation under heaven, and at this sound they all assembled. But they were bewildered to hear their native languages being spoken.  They were amazed and astonished: “Surely all of these people speaking are Galileans!  How does it happen that each of us
hears these words in our native tongue?

We are Parthians, Medes and Elamites, people from Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya around Cyrene, as well as visitors from Rome— all Jews, or converts to Judaism—Cretans and Arabs, too; we hear them preaching, each in our own language, about the marvels of God!” All were amazed and disturbed. They asked each other, “What does this mean?” But others said mockingly, “They’ve drunk too much new wine.”   Then Peter stood up with the Eleven and addressed the crowd: “Women and men of Judea, and all you who live in Jerusalem! Listen to what I have to say! These people are not drunk as you think—it’s only nine o’clock in the morning! No, it’s what Joel the prophet spoke of:  ‘In the days to come— it is our God who speaks— I will pour out my spirit on all humankind. Your daughters and sons will prophesy, your young people will see visions, and your elders will dream dreams.  Even on the most insignificant of my people, both women and men, I will pour out my Spirit in those
days, and they will prophesy.  And I will display wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below: blood, fire and billowing smoke.  The sun will be turned into darkness and the moon will become blood before the coming of the great and sublime day of our God.  And all who call upon the name of our God will be saved.  (Inclusive Bible, Acts 2: 1-21)

Fire is also synonymous with the Holy Spirit—we hear of this in other contexts like the story of Pentecost. It is a call to action.  It was a call for Isaiah, Moses, the Disciple, and others.  While these are amazing stories in Scripture—and maybe that’s all they are—they are important stories if we consider ourselves followers of this tradition.  I am not one to discount their importance by saying, “Well, I’m a realist living in the 21st Century and when do we hear of similar things happening?” I acknowledge our chaotic culture and ask instead, “How are we being impacted by the awe and mystery that is present in spite of our chaotic culture?”  And then move from awe to action. Our world needs us. Our light is needed.  Our love is needed. Our compassion is needed.  Our thoughtfulness is needed. The quote, “If not me, then who?” actually comes from Hillel the Elder, a Jewish leader who lived in the first century: “If I am not for myself, who is for me? And when I am for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?” Indeed—it is us and it is
now.

Amen.

belief and questioning

Hurricane Ridge, Olympic National Park, WA